“She’s your daughter. More than your daughter. You talk about her all the time. Why wouldn’t I want to meet her?” Malcolm asked.
“I don’t recall banging down the door to meet your two,” Lorna said, reaching over and spearing one of the brussel sprouts on his plate.
“I know. Which I find somewhat insulting if you really want to know the truth, but we’ll leave that discussion for another day. Tonight, I want to know why I can’t meet Riley.”
They were in the Portman Arms. It was a shabby, pretentious little restaurant the next town over from the college where people went to meet when they were having adulterous affairs and inappropriate relationships with their students. Lorna and Malcolm’s . . . thing wasn’t inappropriate on any level—he was divorced and she was long single—but somehow by suggesting this clandestine meeting place, Lorna felt it kept everything very tongue-in-cheek, not quite as serious. But now he was pressing her, and had been for weeks now, to meet Riley.
“Why do you find it insulting that I don’t want to meet your children?” Lorna asked leaning forward in her seat. “I find families complicate things. Especially kids. Don’t you?”
“I generally don’t think of my children as complications, no,” Malcolm said, taking a bite of his glazed salmon.
This was why she liked him so much. A different, lesser man might have been insulted at a comment that implied that his progeny were anything other than the “joys of his life”, or “apples of his eye” or some other such triteness. Malcolm was many things, but he was not trite. She liked that about him; that and much more.
Lorna had been sleeping with him for eight months now. That was how she liked to think of it, “sleeping with”, though they did many more things together now than just have sex. Mostly they talked, debated, ruminated, brainstormed. He was her intellectual equal, possibly her superior, and the mixture of competitiveness and awe she felt toward him was the most potent aphrodisiac she had ever experienced in her life. That he was nine years younger than she was not a factor for him, and had grown less significant to her as well over the course of their time together.
They suited each other, and made few demands that the other was not prepared to meet. But lately Malcolm had been making overtures, expressing curiosity about the rest of Lorna’s life, particularly about her daughter and son-in-law. Just when she thought he might have forgotten this ill-conceived quest to make incursions further and further into the rest of Lorna’s life, Riley or Shawn would show up in the media somewhere, and Malcolm’s curiosity would be piqued once again. This time, his interest was revived because Riley had been quoted in The Times (which both irritated Lorna—she had never been quoted in the Times!—and had her ridiculously proud) making some remark that Malcolm found amusing. Asked about the influences for her new contribution to an anthology on race and gender, Riley had quipped that her influence on gender was undoubtedly her mother, Dr. Lorna Terry, who was a “staunch feminist, or as my husband Shawn would call her, a ‘fucking-feminist’.”
Lorna didn’t mind the quip, nor the reference to Shawn calling her a ‘fucking-feminist’. He’d called her as much to her face which Lorna didn’t mind because she adored him and thought of him as a friend and compatriot, and knew full well that he thought the same of her. Well, Malcolm found the comment intriguing, and it only re-lit the flame of his fascination with Riley and her unlikely mate, the world-renowned rapper, blah, blah, blah. Such an old and tedious storyline, in Lorna’s view. Riley and Shawn were a couple in love, whatever the hell that meant, and that was all they were; a story as old as the hills.
He particularly wanted to meet Riley because like Malcolm, she was obsessed with writing about race. Not that Lorna took any issue with an interest in racial politics, but as a twenty-first century topic of focus, she had begun to believe it was all so . . . retrograde. At some point Black folks needed to stop crowing about their Blackness and just . . . get on with it. Of course, Riley would argue—as had Malcolm —that she was just as anal retentive in her insistence at discussing the implications of gender bias in every single little thing.
“Does she even know about me?”
“Does who know about you?” Lorna asked, taking in a mouthful of pasta primavera.
Malcolm held his fork still, aloft and midway to his mouth, and looked at her.
“Okay fine, yes, she knows about you,” Lorna admitted. “But only in the most academic sense.”
“What the hell does that mean? How can she know about me . . . academically? Either she does or she doesn’t.”
“She knows that I’m seeing someone. And she knows that it’s one someone.”
“As opposed to . . ?”
“As opposed to more than one someone, Malcolm,” Lorna said pointedly.
Malcolm paused once again. “Maybe we should talk about that as well,” he said finally.
Then he took a sip of his pinot.
Uh oh. Here it was. The Monogamy Lecture.
Women generally initiated this talk, but Lorna almost never had. Not since she was about twenty years old. Her theory of relationships was one of Non-Attachment, which was really a misnomer because of course she formed attachments, just loose ones. The kinds that were easy to let go of when the time came. Non-Attachment was far easier if one wasn’t monogamous, and if every relationship was viewed as an opportunity for learning rather than a lifelong partnership.
“What would you like to talk about?” she asked, as if she didn’t know.
“Eve Rogers asked me to dinner the other day.”
Lorna almost spluttered her pasta across the table and onto Malcolm’s very well-tailored, perfectly-fitting beige blazer. Eve Rogers, the pushy English professor who hated women? Well. Lorna couldn’t say she was surprised that Rogers would ask him out; she was however surprised and a little disappointed that Malcolm would consider it. Not because he shouldn’t keep his options open, of course, but because Rogers was so . . . obvious.
“And what did you say?” she asked, taking a delicate bite of penne.
“I was noncommittal,” Malcolm said. He looked at her over the top of his glasses, the way she imagined he looked at his students during his lectures.
“That’s not like you,” she said lightly. “You’re generally rather committal, I find. Why the hesitation?”
“Because I’m otherwise occupied,” he said. “Except the extent of it . . . this occupation . . . eludes me.”
“The occupation being . . ?”
“You.” He put down his wineglass and for a moment gave her his full and complete attention.
So, she was correct. This was the Monogamy Lecture. But leave it to Malcolm T. Mitchell to be so stealthy about it. It was a question wrapped in a threat, swathed in a gently prodding inquiry: “I want to meet your daughter but is it necessary if I’m dating someone else? And by the way are you also dating other people?”
“Malcolm, what we are is what we are. I see no need to define it. If you’d like to go to dinner with Eve Rogers, you should feel perfectly free to do so.”
Why was that so difficult to say? Why did it make her feel like each and every word was choking it’s way past her lips?
“Really?” he asked. Then he looked at her plate. It was almost clean as was his. “Dessert for you? I’m feeling like something sweet tonight.”
Then you’d better get something sweet here, Lorna thought. Because there’ll be no sweetness for you later, that’s for damn sure.
“Just coffee,” she said. “And yes, really.”
Her voice had taken on an edge, though she was trying valiantly to control it.
“So you would have no issue with me taking Eve Rogers to dinner?”
“None,” she enunciated.
May as well let him know now. She was not That Woman. The clingy, I-want-you-for-myself woman. The ‘your-dick-belongs-to-me’, ‘where-were-you-all-evening’, ‘I-need-to-know-where-I-stand woman’.
She was Lorna Fucking Terry. Asshole.
“Then we may have a problem,” Malcolm said. He raised his hand, trying to get the attention of the waiter.
No shit, Sherlock.
The waiter responded to Malcolm’s summons and took his order for tiramisu and Lorna’s for a double espresso. And then they were alone once again. She wanted to, but could not resist asking:
“What would be the problem?”
Malcolm looked at her, giving her the full Malcolm T. Mitchell He-Man stare. The one he gave her when they were in bed and he wanted her positioned differently than she was. The look he gave before her grabbed her by the ankles and yanked her toward him, with not a hint of gentleness. The look he gave her before he took her like no man ever had.
Malcolm had discerned about her what no other had, which was the paradox that at as a feminist, she felt most powerful as a woman when she was with a man who knew how to be a man. There were no kid-gloves in this thing they had—Malcolm gave it to her straight, and always had.
“The problem would be,” he said, “that in telling me I should go to dinner with Eve Rogers, you might be under the impression I would be equally understanding if you were to go to dinner, or anywhere else for that matter, with any man but me.”
Lorna sagged in her seat. Now he’d gone and done it . . .
“Malcolm,” she sighed, her voice kind as though addressing a three-year old. “I wish you hadn’t said that. You had to know that I’m not one to stand for ultimatums. Especially not those that would tell me what to do, and with whom. You had to.”
“Yes,” he said, downing the last of his wine and meeting her gaze evenly. “I do know that. And you had to know that I’m not one to sit blithely by while you squander a good thing on some half-baked notion that you’re polyamorous or some such foolishness. You had to.”
They went back to his apartment and had sex anyway. Angry sex, because they were both unfulfilled by their conversation at dinner. Neither had gotten what they wanted, and later there would be a reckoning.
Later, but not now.
Not now because the challenge Malcolm issued turned her on. Lorna was certain she was going to have to leave him, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t revisit, just one more time, the heady, achy, exhilarating feeling of being taken by a man who knew exactly how to take her.
As soon as they made it inside, they were shoving each other against walls, pulling aside clothing, nipping at necks, nipples, stomachs, thighs. Wide-open mouthed kisses, thrusting pelvises, grasping and grappling hands, noisy climaxes.
Afterwards, Lorna let him talk her into going back with him into his bedroom. The wine at dinner had done her in. She wanted to close her eyes for only a few minutes before shaking Malcolm awake and having him drive her home to sleep in her own bed. The idea, of course, was that once she was there she would simply disappear from his life. Avoiding him would not be too difficult. He was all the way across campus most of the time and their schedules did not coincide. They were able to have time together only because they made time. She would stop. That was the plan. No more time, no more Malcolm.
But when Lorna opened her eyes again, it was morning, and bright sunlight was bathing the stark white sheets in Malcolm T. Mitchell’s bed. And he was lying partially atop her, his limbs intertwined with hers, and her arm was wrapped about him, his face buried in her neck, and she didn’t want to move, and didn’t want to disappear from his life, nor have him disappear from hers.